CfP: Contributions from the Humanities and Social Sciences to Research on the Impact of Large Volcanic Eruptions (600–1800 AD)

Krater des Vulkans Tambora auf der Insel Sumbawa, Indonesien. Quelle: Wikimedia Commons

Caldera of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia. Photo by Jialiang Gao, license: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Update: The general OSM deadline has been extended to 09 January 2017!

Over the last two years, the Tambora eruption in 1815 and the subsequent “year without a summer”(1816) have been the subject of both increased public attention and a lively academic discussion resulting in a series of new publications.[1] The impacts of large volcanic eruptions before 1800 have garnered much less attention, although several of these events appear to have been much more severe than what happened with Tambora or Krakatau.[2] Scientific studies have highlighted events like the Samalas eruption in 1257[3], the mid-fifteenth century eruption still named after the Melanesian caldera of Kuwae (in the 1450s or 1460s)[4], or the Laki eruption of 1783 in Iceland. Notably these studies have not limited themselves to sketching the short-term climatic effects of the volcanic dust veil but have attributed significant socioeconomic consequences to these eruptions. Often the underlying, rather monocausal explanation of crisis phenomena in the years after such major eruptions leaves historians and social scientists with a certain unease.

And yet recent research has pointed to volcanic eruptions in the mid sixth century alone as the cause of the “Late Antique Little Ice Age”[5], and the Tambora event has been the topic of a considerable number of interdisciplinary studies. Historians and scholars from neighboring disciplines have yet to adequately address the centuries between these two events, which witnessed many volcanic eruptions of different magnitudes. The traditional humanities, however, can contribute a lot to this discussion by examining written sources—not only from Europe, but also Asia and the Middle East— for chronologically precise information on the direct and indirect impacts of volcanic eruption. In addition, scholars in the humanities and social scientists can offer more nuanced explanations of the symptoms of crises like failed harvests, scarcity, famines, epidemics, and social unrest which often followed major volcanic eruptions. Scholars in these fields can trace contemporary perceptions of extreme meteorological events and atmospheric phenomena and, in rare cases, even reconstruct cultural reactions of societies facing the consequences of a volcanic dust veil. In short, the contributions of scholars with a background in the humanities or social sciences who also draw on the recent scientific research on these events[6] are crucial to a better understanding of the impact of large volcanic eruptions on pre-modern societies.

The 5th Open Science Meeting of PAGES (http://www.pages-osm.org/), planned for May 2017 in Zaragoza, Spain, presents scholars in the humanities and natural sciences with an excellent opportunity for collaboration. Session 8 of max-weber-stiftung-logothis conference will focus on historical volcanic eruptions and their presumed impact (http://www.pages-osm.org/osm/sessions-osm). As part of a research project led by Martin Bauch (Darmstadt), the Max Weber Foundation is offering up to six grants of 600€ each to cover the conference fees and partially offset accommodation and travel costs.

Deadline: Abstracts (300 words) for a 15 minutes oral presentation or a poster in this session of the OSM should be submitted by 09 January 2017 via the official homepage of PAGES for this event: https://veci.eventszone.net/pagesz17/. To apply for a grant from the Max Weber Foundation, please write to bauch@pg.tu-darmstadt.de and include your abstract and a short CV/publication list.

Important: Please note that you have to register before handing in the abstract; but you can choose an option that you pay the conference fee only in case your abstract will be accepted.

The organizers plan to publish the papers (in a collective condensed form) in an interdisciplinary journal. For further information, contact Martin Bauch at the address above.


[1] Luterbacher, Jürg; Pfister, Christian (2015), The year without a summer, in: Nature Geoscience 8, S. 246-248; Krämer, Daniel (2015), “Menschen grasten nun mit dem Vieh“. Die letzte grosse Hungersnot der Schweiz 1816/17, Basel: Schwabe; Behringer, Wolfgang (2015), Tambora und das Jahr ohne Sommer: Wie ein Vulkan die Welt in die Krise stürzte, München: C.H. Beck; D’Arcy Wood (2014), Gillen, Tambora – The Eruption That Changed the World, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[2] See for an overview: Schmidt, Anja; Robock, Alan (2015), Volcanism, the atmosphere and climate through time, in: Volcanism and Global Environmental Change, ed. By Anja Schmidt, Kirsten E. Fristad and Lind T. Elkins-Tanton, Cambridge: Cambridge University press, pp. 195-207; Sigl, Michael et al. (2015), Timing and climate forcing of volcanic eruptions for the last 2,500 years, in: Nature 523, p. 543-549.

[3] Samalas: Lavigne, Franck et al. (2013), Source of the great A.D. 1257 mystery eruption unveiled, Samalas volcano, Rinjani Volcanic Complex, Indonesia, in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110/42, S. 16742-16747; Miller, Gifford H. et al. (2012): Abrupt onset of the Little Ice Age triggered by volcanism and sustained by sea-ice/ocean feedbacks, in: Geophysical Research Letters 39 (2012), L02708; Oppenheimer, Clive:  Ice core and palaeoclimatic evidence for the timing and nature of the great mid-13th century volcanic eruption, in: International Journal of Climatology 23 (2003), S. 417-426; Stothers, Richard B. (2000), Climatic and Demographic Consequences of the Massive Volcanic Eruption of 1258, in: Climatic Change 45, pp. 361-74.

[4] Bauch, Martin (2015) ‚Vulkanisches Zwielicht. Ein Vorschlag zur Datierung des Kuwae-Ausbruchs auf 1464‘, Mittelalter. Interdisziplinäre Forschung und Rezeptionsgeschichte, 10 April, <http://mittelalter.hypotheses.org/5697> with an overview on existing research. To recent new proposal to date the eruption to 1458: C.T. Plummer et al. (2012), An independently dated 2000-yr volcanic record from LawDome, East Antarctica, including a new perspective on the dating of the 1450s CE eruption of Kuwae, Vanuatu, in: Climate of the Past 8 (2012) S. 1929-1940; Michael Sigl et al. (2013), A new bipolar ice core record of volcanism from WAIS Divide and NEEM and implications for climate forcing of the last 2000 years, in: Journal of Geophysical Research, 118/3, pp. 1151–1169, here p. 1152

[5] For an overview see Newfield, Tim, The Global Cooling Event of the Sixth Century – Mystery no longer?, in: http://www.historicalclimatology.com/blog/something-cooled-the-world-in-the-sixth-century-what-was-it; Büntgen, Ulf et al. (2016), Cooling and Societal Change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660AD, in: Nature Geoscience 9,pp. 231-236.

[6] Which is not always focusing on ‚catastrophic‘ consequences: Timmreck, Claudia et al. (2009), Limited temperature response to the very large AD 1258 volcanic eruption, in: Geophysical Research Letters 36 (2009), L21708.


Martin Bauch

Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Geschichte der TU Darmstadt. Ab März 2017 Leiter einer Nachwuchsforschungsgruppe (Freigeist-Fellowship) am GWZO Leipzig; Mitgründer von mittelalter.hypotheses.org

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